Marco Polo - The Book of Wonders

Marco Polo - The Book of Wonders – Faksimile Verlag – Ms. Français 2810 – Bibliothèque nationale de France (Paris, France)

Paris (France) — 1410–1412

Monopods, spice traders, and exotic kingdoms: the Adventures of Marco Polo imaginatively illuminated by the Boucicaut Master and the famous Parisian Bedford workshop

  1. A 15th century French manuscript depicts the adventures of Marco Polo (1254–1324) in a variety of colors and gold inlay

  2. The 84 miniatures were created by several illuminators, including the Boucicaut Master and the workshop of the Bedford Master

  3. Duke John the Fearless of Burgundy, Duke Jean of Berry, and King François I owned this coveted manuscript

Marco Polo - The Book of Wonders

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Marco Polo - The Book of Wonders

The Book of Wonders originates from 15th century France and tells the story of the pioneer and commercial traveler Marco Polo. The most gifted book painters of the time depicted the adventures his journey in the most far-flung regions of the world in a captivating variety of colors and gold inlay.

Marco Polo - The Book of Wonders

In 15th century France, an artistic manuscript emerged that was contributed to by the most famous and influential illuminators of that time. The document recounts the story of the commercial traveler Marco Polo in 192 pages and 84 magnificent, large-format miniatures with gold inlay. It describes the journey of the pioneer in the remote regions of Asia, from his return journey through India to Venice, and regions that Marco Polo probably never visited. The work depicts a unique mixture of geographical and ethnological documentation, as well as fantastical medieval imaginings and sagas.

The Trendsetter of Book Painting

The coveted and valuable document originates from the 15th century and was prepared by the most famous French miniature painters of that time, who worked in two groups simultaneously. 37 from the total of 84 miniatures came from the Boucicaut Master, the famous virtuoso of the northern European artists who was responsible for the influential innovations of illumination from that region. He was supported by the no-less popular Mazarine Master. The second group of artists is responsible for 44 miniatures, which likewise delight through their quality and diligence. Among these painters were the Egerton Master and Bedford Master, who created through their brilliant collaboration probably their most beautiful illustrations.

A Mysterious Commissioner?

Even today, it has never been definitively explained who commissioned the so-called Book of Wonders. A high cost must certainly be reckoned for a magnificent manuscript of this quality and with the involvement of such popular illuminators, it can be assumed that the commissioner was among the nobility. A few personal symbols and hints in the work point to the Burgundian Duke John the Fearless, who was known as a great patron of art, music, and literature.

The Turbulent History of the Illuminated Manuscript

A further indication that John the Fearless was the commissioner, or at least its original owner, is found in the inventory of the Duke of Berry. Here the work is listed as a gift of the Duke of Burgundy. After the death of the Duke of Berry, the manuscript passed into the possession of the Armagnac family. The journey of the codex is not exactly known to us today, until the beginning of the 16th century it had completely disappeared. Thereafter it surfaced in the library of King Francois I and was clad in its present binding with the king’s coat of arms at the end of the 17th century.

Breathtaking Stories in Dreamlike Pictures

Even more adventurous than the fate of the work are the histories it contains. They tell of Marco Polo, who in 1271 undertook the journey to Asia with his father and uncle. Their path drove them from Palestine across Persia, Pakistan, and the Pamir Mountains to China, to the court of the fabled Mongolian ruler Kublai Khan. Afterward the young Marco Polo won the trust of the Khan, he was allowed to undertake missions for him, which took him to the remotest regions of East Asia**. In 1292, Marco Polo took himself aboard ship across the Indian Ocean to Venice, where he remained and started a family. During Venice’s war with Genoa, the pioneer was kept prisoner in a tower for three years together with a writer of the name Rusticello, whom he entrusted with his experiences. Rusticello wrote these down in French and a transcript of this manuscript came into the possession of Christopher Columbus, which inspired him to undertake his own expeditions. A transcript also served the composers of the Book of Wonders as a template, which they made come alive for the beholder through breathtaking illustrations. The full page miniatures are decorated with elements of gold leaf and give a depiction of the lands and peoples of the Orient, which was mixed with traditional European stories and immersed its readers in the fantastic adventures of Marco Polo.


Alternative Titles
Book of Miracles
Marco Polo - Das Buch der Wunder
Livre des merveilles
Size / Format
594 pages / 42.0 × 30.0 cm
84 large and numerous smaller scale miniatures
John the Fearless, Duke of Burgundy (1371–1419)
Artist / School
Previous Owners
Duke John of Berry (1340–1416)
Bonne of Berry (1362/1365–1435)
Count Bernard VII of Armagnac (1360–1418)
Bernard d'Armagnac (1400–1462)
Jacques d'Armagnac (ca. 1433–1477)
Charles d’Orléans, Count of Angoulême (1459–96)
King Francis I of France (1494 –1547)

Available facsimile editions:
Marco Polo - The Book of Wonders – Faksimile Verlag – Ms. Français 2810 – Bibliothèque nationale de France (Paris, France)
Faksimile Verlag – Lucerne, 1995
Limited Edition: 980 copies
Detail Picture

Marco Polo - The Book of Wonders

Arrival at Hormuz

Hormuz was one of the most important ports and trading centers in ancient and medieval Persia. Its location on an island in the Persian Gulf made it a critical link in the trade networks between East and West. Polo visited there twice, once in 1272 (pictured here) and on his return journey in 1293. He is shown arriving by ship with elephants and camels. In fact, Polo’s party arrived in Hormuz by camel and wanted to proceed by ship, but nothing available was seaworthy enough for the long voyage.

Marco Polo - The Book of Wonders – Faksimile Verlag – Ms. Français 2810 – Bibliothèque nationale de France (Paris, France)
Single Page

Marco Polo - The Book of Wonders

Marco Polo Departs Constantinople

Although this fantastic manuscript is a collaboration of masters from early 15th century France, the miniature page introducing this work originates solely from the hand of the so-called Master of the Mazarine Hours. This is a wonderful specimen of the Late Gothic style during the golden age of French illumination.

The elongated figures and soft folds are typically French, and the architecture shows a worthy attempt at perspective. However, one cannot help but get lost in the marginalia, which arguably outshines the primary miniature with brightly colored tendrils accented with gold leaf. Four medallion miniatures in barbed quatrefoils depict angels with scrolls and animals with coats of arms before intricately patterned backgrounds.

Marco Polo - The Book of Wonders – Faksimile Verlag – Ms. Français 2810 – Bibliothèque nationale de France (Paris, France)
Facsimile Editions

#1 Marco Polo - Das Buch der Wunder; Livre des merveilles

Faksimile Verlag – Lucerne, 1995

Publisher: Faksimile Verlag – Lucerne, 1995
Limited Edition: 980 copies
Binding: Bound in brown kidskin and decorated with the royal coat of arms, the book is gilt-edged on three sides; the individual sections are sewn together by hand. The facsimile edition and the commentary volumes are available in a noble book case covered in dark blue Chinese silk.
Commentary: 1 volume (506 pages) by Jean Richard, François Avril, Jacques Monfrin, Marie-Thérèse Gousset, and Marie-Hélène Tesnière
Languages: French, German
1 volume: Exact reproduction of the original document (extent, color and size) Reproduction of the entire original document as detailed as possible (scope, format, colors). The binding may not correspond to the original or current document binding.
Price Category: €€ (1,000€ - 3,000€)
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